Read Meg: Hell's Aquarium Online

Authors: Steve Alten

Tags: #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Espionage, #Fiction

Meg: Hell's Aquarium (36 page)

BOOK: Meg: Hell's Aquarium
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The big female remains in seventy feet of water, her snout pressing against the canal’s steel doors, her mouth slack-jawed as she filters a current of seawater through her gills. Atop her skull is a rectangular-shaped, blood-red scar—all that remains of the surgical suite which the animal had bashed off shortly after awakening from its anesthesia.

Suddenly she is alert, her ampullae of Lorenzini homing in on Bobby Baitman’s electrical impulses, her lateral line registering the robotic doll’s vibrations along the surface, her nostrils inhaling an artificially generated, pungent scent.

Leaving the barrier, Angel moves through the canal into the brilliant azure bathtub, her rising dorsal fin announcing her presence.

A crescendo of screams fills the arena as Angel enters the lagoon, the albino creature, heading for the oblivious swimmer now halfway across the tank.

Dani, safe behind the rail with her father, yells into her microphone, “Bobby! Bobby, get out of there! Ted, somebody, get a rope!”

Uncertain of what is actually happening, the crowd is on its feet—screaming, ranting, going crazy—as the dorsal fin circles the swimmer, and goes deep.

Mac cues Teddy by radio. “Wait . . . wait . . . now!”

Teddy activates the A-frame’s pulley—

—retracting the clear spool of cable, jerking Bobby Baitman straight out of the water—

—Angel launching out of the lagoon after him like a Polaris missile.

The Meg snaps her jaws beneath the rising dummy, twisting as she defies gravity for a heart-stopping, camera-snapping moment before plunging back into the water with a thunderous splash.

Dani and Jonas take cover behind the wave wall as the barrier is pelted by the torrential burst, the crowd in the first few rows instinctively ducking.

Dani steps out from behind the clear barrier, speaking excitedly into her microphone, “Let’s give our stuntman, Bobby Baitman, a well-deserved round of applause!”

The mechanized sex doll waves to the cheering crowd from high atop the A-frame, most of the audience still believing he is real.

“And how about a little treat for Angel . . . the Angel of Death!”

Teddy fires the catapult, launching the 150-pound side of beef high into the air, falling gracefully into the center of the lagoon—

—where its perturbed diner snaps its jaws around the offering in one tremendous bite.

Teddy’s team uses the distraction to quickly lower Bobby Baitman to the deck, where the lifelike doll is loaded onto an awaiting Gurney, still waving as he’s wheeled away.

Dani waits until Angel has returned to the canal before addressing the crowd. “And that’s our show for this afternoon! Thank you for coming. Please exit the arena carefully using the nearest gate, and be sure to visit the Meg Pen gallery. Belle and Lizzy’s next feeding is at three p.m.”

Jonas slips his arm around his daughter’s waist as they cross the soaked deck to the staff corridor, listening to comments from the bleachers.

“That Baitman guy’s crazy. Whatever they’re paying him, it ain’t enough.”

“For a million bucks, I’d do it.”

“Sure you would.”

“When that fin started circling, my heart was beating so fast, I thought I was having a heart attack.”

Jonas winks at Dani. “You were great. How do you feel?”

“A dull headache, nothing too bad. Dad, this new show . . . it’s brilliant. It puts the audience right there, like they’re in the water with Bobby.”

Looking up, Jonas sees Tom Cubit waiting for them inside the corridor. The attorney is shaking his head, grimacing.

“Tommy. What? Nobody died, did they?”

“Not yet. The paramedics are still treating half a dozen fainting-related injuries and a potential heart attack, which I think may have been your insurance agent. At this rate, I’ll never see the outside of a courtroom.”

They gaze at the inert figure covered in a sheet on the Gurney, its groin bulging beneath the wetsuit. “Smile, Tom. Things can always be worse. Look at Bobby . . . he’s happy.”

Dubai Aquarium
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The enormous man-made lake, more than three miles in circumference, harbors the concrete foundations supporting the twelve two-hundred-foot shark fins.

The setting sun at their backs, David and Monty stand on one of the six acrylic glass and steel walkways overlooking the lake. Staring below at the turtles, they estimate there are now several hundred of them—the bigger specimens green sea turtles, the smaller ones hawksbills—all having been transplanted from the Persian Gulf into the thirty-foot-deep, acrylic bowl.

David watches one of the reptiles’ heads poke through the surface of the water bathed in reflecting golden hues. “Think they’re happy?”

“The turtles? Hell, yes. They probably have a turtle orgy every night. Of course, only humans and dolphins actually do it for fun, or so I’ve heard. I once read a pig’s orgasm lasts thirty minutes. In my next life, I want to be a pig.”

David grins. “What do you mean, in your next life?”

“That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in weeks.”

“What’s to smile about? We went from living in a five-star hotel with round-the-clock room service and cable TV to sharing a single-wide trailer with an old Sanyo that only gets local stations in Arabic. And no offense, but having lived with you these last few weeks, calling you a pig is an insult to the pig. Plus the fact that I have to practically drag your smelly ass out of bed every morning—”

“I’m bi-polar. Some days are good, some are bad. You knew the deal when you adopted me.” Monty hocks up mucus from the back of his throat and spits it into the turtle pond, tempting up a hawksbill. “It’s not too late, you know.”

“What’s not too late?”

“To go and find your woman. They’d still fly you out if you asked.”

“How do you know that?”

“I heard one of bin Rashidi’s goons talking to Dr. Becker about you. It was all in Arabic, but I picked it up well enough. Things aren’t going well on their little hunting expedition. I’m surprised they didn’t mention it to you.”

David slams his palms on the aluminum rail. “They won’t tell me anything. Not where they went or how she’s doing . . . or
what
she’s doing?”

“Want to find out?”

“How?”

“The tank the Arabs labeled ‘bad fish.’ Let’s see what kind of bad fish they captured.”

“Again, how? They keep the T-1 gallery locked at all times. A guard is posted outside when Becker enters to make sure no one else follows her in.”

“Main ventilation shaft. It connects with every eighth floor deck.”

“How do you know that?”

“I spend six hours a day cutting raw fish. On my breaks I sit in my director’s office, playing with his computer. Everything’s touch-screen. The aquarium schematics were right there.”

“How do we access the shaft?”

“We enter through the air conditioning intake on the deck of T-3. From there, it’s a short crawl into T-1.”

David checks his watch. “Night shift clocks in at eight. That gives us forty minutes. Let’s go!”

They jog over the bridge to the third floor entrance, David using his magnetic access card to gain entry into the facility. The main lobby is deserted, the day shift having left twenty minutes earlier. They follow the east alcove to aquarium’s T-1, T-3, and T-5, then use the access card to enter the door marked T-3: restricted. The interior corridor leads them to a stairwell, which they ascend five flights to Level 8. Passing through another set of security doors marked T-3, they step out onto the upper deck of the empty aquarium.

The pond-size surface and work deck is deserted, the tank void of sea life, the filtration systems running. Low level ultraviolet lights illuminate patches of coral formations growing seventy feet below.

“Here.” Monty pushes a mobile gantry toward the air conditioning intake, situated fifteen feet above the deck along one wall. “Standard bolts. A drill would be nice.”

David searches through a tool cabinet. He locates a drill, verifies it’s charged, and attaches a flathead screwdriver bit. He passes the drill up to Monty, who sets to work on the four-foot by four-foot aluminum grid.

The bolts unscrew easily. “Butter. Let’s go.”

David climbs up the wheeled scaffolding, following Monty inside the aluminum shaft.

It’s cold inside, at least thirty degrees cooler, the air rushing at their faces, howling through the dark tunnel. They creep forward on all fours, the palms of their hands taking the brunt of the work.

“A flashlight would have helped,” David whispers.

“Just follow me.” Reaching the main junction, Monty turns left, crawling another ninety feet before coming to another short stretch of shaft on their left that dead-ends in a dull patch of light. “See there? That’s T-1’s intake.”

David follows him to the grid then peeks through the grill out to the deck of aquarium T-1. “Looks clear. How do we pop the grill from the inside?”

“I dunno. Did you bring a pair of needle-nose pliers?”

“Did you ask me to bring pliers?”

“I assumed you’d know.”

“You assumed? Who am I? Freakin’ Tom Cruise in
Mission Impossible
? Wait here!” David hustles back out the vent to the main junction, follows it out to T-3’s vent, climbs down the scaffolding, grabs two pairs of needle-nose pliers from the tool cabinet, then hurries back through the air conditioning ducts to Monty—

—who has already managed to loosen three of the four bolts with his fingers. “Guess we didn’t need the pliers after all.”

“Get out of the way.” David unscrews the last bolt and they pop open the intake grill.

It’s a fifteen-foot drop to the concrete deck below, the area dark, save for the glowing red exit signs.

“Should I jump?” Monty asks.

“And shatter your ankles so I have to take care of your ass for another eight weeks? Move over!” Backing out feet-first, David shimmies down the wall as far as he can then drops the last eight feet, rolling with the fall. He finds a ladder and sets it in place for Monty, who reattaches the grid, then joins him by the edge of the dark tank.

“I can’t see a thing,” Monty whispers. “Should I turn on the lights?”

“No. They’re keeping it dark for a reason. Could be a nocturnal species.” Leaving the edge of the enormous pool, he locates the main fuse box and the switches for the aquarium’s red nocturnal lights. He flicks the entire row on—

—blood-red patches of light blooming in the tank.

Monty scans the hour glass-shaped pool. A dark shadow circles along the bottom. “Something’s in there.”

“What is it?”

“Dunno. Could be the Loch Ness Monster.”

“Let’s get down to the gallery. We’ll be able to see it better from there.”

They head for the exit, following the concrete stairwell five flights down to Level 3. Opening the metal fire door, they step out into the vast public gallery, the empty hall dark except for the red glow coming from the aquarium’s towering wall of acrylic glass.

Monty paces before the window, looking in. “I still don’t see anything. Here, Nessie! Come on, girl.”

A shiver crawls down David’s spine. “Monty, freeze.”

“Why?”

“Just don’t move, it sees you.”

“What sees me?” Monty turns—

—as the creature slowly circles back toward the gallery window, its bulbous nocturnal eyes glowing green in the red light.

“Jesus . . . what in the holy hell is that?”

The ocean’s first true predator moves majestically past the bay window, the placoderm’s thick hide appearing dark brown, a silvery hue along its belly. Its body is as long and wide as a bus, tapering back from its brutish, armor-plated skull to a massive upper-lobed tail fin. The hinged mouth is open, revealing bony plated teeth—cusped and deeply serrated from the shearing action generated by the double upper fangs constantly sliding past the lower incisors.

David’s throat tightens as the hunter moves off into the shadows then circles back again, stalking the gallery window. “It’s a Dunk,” David whispers, his voice cracking.

“What’s a Dunk?”

Monty’s sudden movements alert the creature. Changing course, it charges the window—

—the glass igniting seconds before the impact in searing purple bolts of electricity, the voltage chasing the beast back into the shadows.

BOOK: Meg: Hell's Aquarium
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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